HMC and Piazza Launch First Online Community Mentorship Program to Support STEM Women

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Witson logoHarvey Mudd College and Piazza today launched the first online community mentorship program to support students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

WitsOn (Women in Technology Sharing Online) connects undergraduates pursuing STEM degrees with female mentors from industry and academia who can speak from personal experience about issues of particular concern to young women.

Thirty-six leading colleges and universities have signed on to be part of the program. Five hundred women from 60 different companies and universities will serve as mentors, and 10,000 undergraduates from STEM fields have already signed up to participate.

“WitsOn is a wonderful opportunity to take some of the things we’ve learned at Harvey Mudd College and extend them to the world at large,” said HMC President Maria Klawe, who co-organized the initiative and will serve as a lead mentor. “We’ve seen that mentors help young people to envision successful outcomes for themselves. That’s so important for young women in technology-related fields, who in many cases still don’t encounter older people who resemble themselves.”

WitsOn encourages students to ask mentors questions about how they’ve balanced commitments to career, family, faith and community. More popular questions will be answered by a diverse group of mentors from dozens of schools and companies, with lead mentors answering by video.

Mentors include California Institute of Technology chemist Jackie Barton, Cisco Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padma Warrior, former Welch-Allyn CEO Julie Shimer, Microsoft Vice-President Julie Larson-Green and HMC President Maria Klawe. HMC female faculty members and alumnae working in a variety of STEM will also serve as mentors.

WitsOn uses Piazza’s social learning platform, a collaboration tool for college students that allows them to conduct academic work under the guidance of their instructors.

“I built Piazza to be a great online platform for class Q&A because as a shy girl studying computer science, I wanted to ask questions of my peers and professors but lacked the confidence to open my mouth,” said Pooja Sankar, CEO of Piazza. “WitsOn extends that question-and-answer paradigm beyond the classroom, by creating a network of students and mentors that’s larger and more diverse than any single college could be.”

Harvey Mudd College is a leader in addressing the gender imbalance in technical fields. The latest first-year class at the prestigious engineering school is nearly evenly split between women and men–47 percent female and 53 percent male. Forty percent of computer science degrees go to female students and about 40 percent of the faculty is female.

WitsOn is open to any undergraduate student in a U.S. or Canadian college or university. Instructors and administrators can also enroll their students in the program directly.

Read the New York Times article, “Online Mentors to Guide Women Into the Sciences.”